This month’s interview is with a Catholic woman named Jennifer Lynn Bolt, who I met through a FaceBook group called Catholic Geeks. She has a son named Jakob, who has cerebral palsy. I asked her questions about how her faith helps her cope with such a wonderful child.
1) What was your childhood like? Were you raised as a Christian?
I had a mostly fun-filled childhood. My parents, my brother , and I were happy, other than the fairly normal sibling conflicts, made a bit more challenging due to my brother having dyslexia and failing at school while I excelled. I loved to learn, and I still do. I attended public school, and religious education classes weekly at our church as well. The whole family went to mass on Sundays and all holy days, sometimes more often.
2) What’s your occupation?
I previously earned my degree in history and worked in museums and living history, as well as in banking and in retail clothing sales. I even was an independent Mary Kay cosmetics consultant for a while.
But now I call myself a Professional Mother. Others may say housewife, stay at home mom, or homeschooling mom. While those are true for me, I also have for the past twelve years, implemented a home-based treatment program for my sixteen-year-old son, who is severely challenged by a neurological condition called cerebral palsy.
3) Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus? Why?
I have several favorites, and the ones I draw inspiration from have changed at different times of my life. But here are three of them that have continually impacted my life.
MARY–I love and revere Mary, for her beautiful, beatific example of absolute faith despite God’s plan for her being so radical and scary. She of all people knows. She really gets it.
DAVID–I will always love David for the psalms he wrote. He taught me that even if you really get angry, even if you yell at God, He can handle it. He will always be there for us if we turn to him. Yeah, David could really be a rascal, and he made some HUGE mistakes, but he always came back to God with true contrition. David also taught me the beauty of God and his love for us through the Psalms, and that God’s mercy is boundless.
PAUL–Paul’s life is an AWESOME testament to what God can do for anyone. He was originally Saul, a Pharisee who persecuted Christians, and thanks to God’s miraculous, radical changes in him, he became the most important teacher of all Early Christians, writing all those letters of guidance to the scattered Christian communities. I thank God for Paul, for his history and teachings that formed the pillars of my Church and my faith.
4. Favorite Biblical verse or passage and Why?
1st Thessalonians, Chapter 5, verses 8-11. Especially verse 11: “But since we are aware of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do.
5. How did you feel when you learned Jakob has cerebral palsy?
At the actual moment of diagnosis, I was relieved to have a name for whatever it was so that I could find out more about what I could expect. I was a planner. I wanted to know when he would be able to walk, talk, feed himself, etc, in comparison to the normal developmental milestone growth charts everyone was always talking about in regards to child-rearing. To tell the truth, I could not recall ever hearing of cerebral palsy before. However, when I researched it, for a while I was very frustrated and angry. I was really upset that there weren’t more definitive answers.
I know now that almost all neurological conditions, there are more questions than answers, and more variety within the diagnoses than most will ever know. So, this diagnosis gave me none of the answers I was seeking. I had to throw “the plan” I had in my head out the window, and embark on this journey with no road map at all. It was overwhelming, to say the least. Thank God that my family and my faith were there to support me.
6. Can you explain how you cope with his disabilities?
My faith in God and the redemptive nature of struggles has pulled me through many difficult times with Joshua, however I am most grateful that God has given me the grace be able to see Joshua for the blessing he is, and to see his intelligence and his progress, how far he has come versus how far he still has to go. So I am able to focus on the joys of his bright personality, and regarding the difficult stuff, just prioritize quickly and do what needs to be done moment by moment.
In order to learn best how to help him, I have taken many courses on child brain development at The Institutes of Human Potential, http://www.iahp.org. Thanks to taking Joshua to them regularly for over ten years, I have been able to help design and implement a home-based intensive treatment program, with the goal of physiological, physical, intellectual, and social excellence.
I also recruit and manage a team of volunteers from our parish, our community, and our local University who help him, mainly with the physical components of that program. These wonderful and generous people have not only helped Joshua, but also have taught me how allowing them to help has blessed them. That when I ask for help, it is not just for my family, but it is also giving them a priceless opportunity. Assisting us, and getting to know Joshua teaches them far more about life and the value and dignity of every person than any regular college course or even theology course could, I think.
7. What is the most challenging thing about raising a child with cerebral palsy?
I think the biggest challenge, for a parent of a child with any major developmental delay, physical and/or intellectual, is letting go of the “typical” timeline most people have in their heads. Patience is vital. Faith and hope are essential. We must accept that things are different from what we had planned for our families, while at the same time we must fight alongside our children to help them achieve as much as they possibly can.
8. What would you say to someone who doesn’t understand how you can raise a child like Jakob?
If I didn’t have Jakob, I perhaps wouldn’t understand it, either. Being his mother has blessed me and taught me so much about life, faith, hope, and embracing the joy, value, and dignity of every person, no matter what their abilities are.
9. What would you say to anyone who has discovered their child has cerebral palsy or any other disability?
You just never know what graces God may give you to see what a blessing it is to raise a child like Joshua, even if it is radically different from what you would have chosen for your child, or for yourself. Even when you are worn out and worn down and maybe even angry and frustrated, God is always there to listen and to provide the strength you and your child need to get through the storms and to see the rainbows.
10. Who is your favorite saint?
I don’t have just one. Besides Mary of curse, Saint Paul and the three Theresas are my favorites. Saint Paul’s writings make up so much wisdom of the Early Church that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Tradition of the Church, have given me the pillars of my faith. Then, the writings and lives of Saint Theresa of Avila, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Teresa of Calcutta have inspired me immeasurably, and given me slightly more modern women as role models who seem far more real than any biblical figure to me, flaws and all.
11. How has your religion helped you in your life?
My Church has taught me lessons about life, acts of charity, mercy, and forgiveness, and redemptive suffering. It has, through God, the Gather, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, strengthened my faith in the continuing love and care God gives all of us. He gives me the graces to see blessings where others see nothing but crosses to bear.
12. What evidence can you give for God’s existence?
The evidence is our very existence. I have a very simple faith in this respect. Every single time I look in a child’s eyes, and every single thing I see in this beautiful world, the more I see and learn, especially the more I learn about science and how life continues, the more I think how strange and impossible it would be for all of this to exist WITHOUT God and his Graces. I find it absolutely mystifying that there are people who believe those very same miracles of our existence, and of all we have learned about our world and our universe, are proof that God does not exist.